Most business leaders would be ‘apprehensive’ about hiring a senior disabled employee

‘Shocking’ survey finds concerns over the cost of workplace adjustments among factors cited by employers

One in five business leaders would be “very apprehensive” about appointing a disabled person to a senior role, according to new research which experts said demonstrated there were many workplace prejudices which still needed to be tackled.

The poll of 1,002 business leaders found that just one in 10 (11 per cent) reported having no concerns about picking a person with a disability to fill a senior vacancy.

This compares to 58 per cent who said they would have some apprehension, and 20 per cent who said they would be very apprehensive.

The survey, commissioned by executive search firm Inclusive Boards and conducted by research firm Survation, said the main concern around hiring senior staff with disabilities was that it would be too costly to make the necessary adjustments to cater for their needs.

Another reason, given by 41 per cent of senior business leaders, was that disabled people might take a lot of sick leave, and more than a quarter (27 per cent) said their organisation might not benefit from employing a disabled person.

Angela Matthews, head of policy and research at the Business Disability Forum, said the survey “highlights some of the prejudices and inaccuracies around disability which continue to exist and which make it difficult for people to talk openly about their disability.”

“Recruiting senior staff should never be about whether or not a person has a disability. It should be about recruiting people with the best talent and skills to take the organisation forward,” she said.

Denise Keating, chief executive of the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion, described the findings as “shocking” and said they “highlight the biases which need addressing in the workplace.”

Sophie Wingfield, head of policy and public affairs at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), added: “It is appalling that negative attitudes about hiring disabled people continue to persist, particularly among business leaders.

“Many independent studies show that organisations with diverse leadership teams perform better than those with less diverse teams, and that disabled employees take on average fewer sick days than non-disabled employees.”

The research is “very concerning” and shows that “businesses are clearly missing out on a wealth of skills and capabilities,” according to Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD.

The HR profession “has a significant role to play in challenging misconceptions and very unhelpful stereotypes” and HR teams are “ideally placed to inform leaders and line managers about the reasonable adjustments needed to enable someone to perform at their best at work, which are often simple and low-cost,” she said.

Dr Zofia Bajorek, research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), added that the findings indicate “the level of stigma that employees with disabilities suffer in the workplace.”

She said: “The reason regarding ‘apprehension regarding reasonable adjustments costing a lot of money’ is particularly concerning, given there is evidence to show that the smallest of adjustments could make a dramatic difference for those with disabilities and that reasonable adjustments are a legal requirement and not just a nice thing to do.”

The reluctance to appoint disabled people to senior roles is part of a wider issue. Earlier this year, People Management reported findings that one in four UK employers would be less likely to recruit a disabled jobseeker, and almost one in five candidates had job offers withdrawn due to their disability.

Disabled people are significantly less likely to be in work. Just 51.7 per cent of disabled people are in employment, compared to 81.7 per cent of non-disabled people.

Those who are employed are paid less than those without disabilities, with a disability pay gap of 13 per cent for men and 7 per cent for women, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).